OTTAWA – A Conservative MP says plenty of government backbenchers share opposition concerns about the wide array of controversial measures crammed into the massive budget implementation bill.
But British Columbia MP David Wilks says there’s nothing a lone member can do to defeat the bill or force the Harper government to split up its 425 pages.
Wilks made the comments during a meeting Tuesday with a small group of constituents in his Kootenay-Columbia riding.
Portions of the meeting were videotaped and posted online Wednesday, prompting Wilks to quickly backtrack.
In the video, Wilks is urged by several constituents to vote against the omnibus budget bill, which features a host of non-budgetary measures including changes to the environmental assessment process, Old Age Security, immigration and Employment Insurance rules.
But Wilks says without similar defiance from at least a dozen fellow Tories, voting against the bill would be an empty gesture that would get him booted out of the Conservative caucus.
“Me doesn’t change the budget,” he tells the constituents. “If I stand up and say ‘no,’ it still passes.”
Pressed by one woman to break party ranks and represent the views of his constituents on the bill, Wilks responds: “If you want me as an independent, I’ll do that.”
In the candid exchange, Wilks reveals frustration over the way in which the bill has been presented.
“I think you’ll find a barrage of Conservatives do hold your concerns and I am one of them,” he says. “I do believe some of (the provisions) should be separated out.”
Opposition parties have dubbed the legislation a “Trojan Horse bill,” designed to sneak through a host of controversial changes to a wide array of programs with little individual scrutiny. But Wilks is the first Conservative MP to echo those concerns.
Shortly after the video surfaced, Wilks was back-pedalling.
“I wish to clarify my position with regard to Bill C-38, the Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act,” Wilks said in a statement posted on his website.
“I support this bill and the jobs and growth measures that it will bring for Canadians in Kootenay-Columbia and right across the country.”
Spokesmen for Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty declined to comment, saying Wilks’ statement speaks for itself.
But in the video, Wilks has little good to say about the budget. Rather, he appears to agree with many of the concerns expressed by his constituents and spends considerable time explaining to that he has no choice but to support C-38 because party discipline is rigidly applied to budget bills.
“There’s no argument … It doesn’t make it right but this is what happens in Ottawa.”
He says it “concerns some of us backbenchers” that they’re not consulted in advance about legislation and have little opportunity, apart from 10 minutes each week during caucus meetings, to give their input. He notes that individual MPs can speak privately to cabinet ministers but suggests even that is fruitless.
“At the end of the day, in my opinion, they’ve made up their mind … One MP is not going to make a difference.”